Fleeing bad hospitals, Vietnamese patients spend $2 billion abroad

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Two sickbeds are joined together and shared by four patients at Bach Mai, a leading public hospital in Hanoi

Poor services and facilities at many Vietnamese hospitals have prompted the wealthier to spend a total of US$2 billion dollars a year on treatment abroad, according to local authorities. 

The money is spent by around 40,000 patients seeking treatment and examinations abroad every year, according to unofficial statistics released at a conference held by the Central Party's Propaganda and Training Committee and Lao Dong Newspaper to discuss Vietnam's recent medical accomplishments and call for public support of local hospitals.

Experts at the conference Saturday said Vietnamese doctors have successfully performed many innovative procedures recently, also providing training to foreign doctors in some cases.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, former director of Tu Du, a leading ob-gyn hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, said: "Vietnam is performing more in vitro fertilizations than any other Southeast Asian countries, with high success rates, and it has managed to perform almost every kind of treatment for infertility being used in the world."

Tran Hai Yen, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City Opthalmology Hospital, said Vietnamese doctors are "skillful" surgeons and they are constantly updated with new technologies.

Health vice minister Nguyen Viet Tien said at the conference that Vietnam has received regional, even global recognition for successes in organ implantation, endoscopic surgeries, as well as cardiology, oncology, ophthalmology, and reproduction interventions.

"Doctors from many countries in the region have had to come to Vietnam to learn," Tien said.

But patients who can afford it are still leaving, even though the cost is many times higher and there are cultural and language barriers.

Yen said people with better living standards do not only care about having their diseases cured, but also about how they are treated.

"While choosing a hospital, people are also questioning the behavior of doctors and nurses, the hygiene of the hospital, not only the doctors' abilities," she said.

Dr. Vo Van Thanh, chairman of Ho Chi Minh City Association of Spinal Cord, said the primary overseas options are Thailand and Singapore, where hundreds of patients go every day.

He said one patient once met him at a city hospital for treatment, but fled after seeing crowds and chaos. "They told me no matter how good the doctors are, they cannot accept poor facilities and messes."

Nguyen Tan Binh, director of Ho Chi Minh City Health Department, said many people going abroad are concerned about the very real risk of bacterial infection, which happens frequently at Vietnam hospitals given the lack of a control system and the crowds.

With better facilities and no messes, a kidney implantation in Singapore can be eight times more expensive than in Vietnam, as can some cardiological interventions, doctors at the conference said.

They said some patients going aboard have to struggle to find money for a second visit or when a complication follows.

But they continue to do so due to the widespread and persistent problems at Vietnamese facilities.

Truong Quang Dinh, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City Children's Hospital No.2, one of leading pediatric hospital in the city, said public hospitals in Vietnam have many good doctors and private hospitals have very good services. He suggested the government "establish a balance between the two."

He said that Vietnam has to change its medical policies by making necessary investments to improve human resources at private hospitals and upgrade facilities at public ones.

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